The National Weather Service has improved disaster response through a collaborative project aimed at communicating crucial weather information and helping emergency managers stay current and build networks online and onsite.
To get there, each of 122 forecast offices across the country has developed relationships with emergency managers, first responders, government officials, businesses and the public to use technology to make fast, smart decisions that save lives, said Chris Strager, NWS Adviser for Science and Service Integration.
Dubbed Weather-Ready Nation, the effort began a year ago (see video above) and proved successful when Hurricane Isaac threatened the west coast of Florida in August.
State and federal officials used Weather-Ready Nation’s communications network as they worked closely to ensure the safety of the people attending the Republican National Convention in Tampa. The process helped officials decide whether to delay the event and view the storm track go far to the west, Strager said.
Jack Williams, founding weather editor at USA Today and author of many books on weather, described Weather-Ready Nation as a “concerted effort to unclog the information pipeline from NWS to the people who need the information.”
“I’ve noticed in a lot of disasters, sometimes the information the weather service is trying to get to emergency directors and the public in general doesn’t always get through,” he said.
In August, NOAA awarded $879,000 for four, two-year projects to evaluate the best way to communicate crucial weather information. Does email, social media or text messaging work better than traditional print and broadcast alerts are questions the projects are trying to answer.
“These projects apply innovative social science research methods to the immense challenge of communicating crucial weather information in an increasingly complex world,” said Kathryn Sullivan, Ph.D., assistant secretary of commerce for environmental observation and prediction and NOAA deputy administrator.
“The results are expected to improve communication within the weather community and motivate appropriate responses from the public when dangerous weather threatens,” she added.
The six Weather-Ready Nation projects focus on emergency response, ecological forecasting and enhanced support to officials who make public health and safety decisions when extreme weather is on the horizon.
NOAA is working with a vast network of partners to build the Weather-Ready Nation. It includes other government agencies, emergency managers, researchers, the media, the insurance industry, non-profits and the private sector.
You can do the best forecast in the world, “but if people don’t respond appropriately, you might as well have gone fishing,” said John Snow, meteorology professor at the University of Oklahoma.
“Weather-Ready Nation makes the system work better. Warnings go out. People start doing things, emergency managers and cops have training classes,” he said.
Among its projects, the Weather-Ready Nation is investigating the development of mobile ready emergency response specialist teams. And it is studying how to communicate weather better, working with social scientists to make sure people understand what action needs to take place, how people react to a certain message, the best way to portray information through technology what colors you use and what is the best message to text an alert, Strager said.
The effort, which began a year ago after a particularly damaging storm season, also includes six pilot programs working to come up with the best ways to reach out to the public.
“We cannot stop the weather, but we can make sure people are prepared before during and after the event. We can assure the weather is well forecast, communicated and understood by everyone,” Strager said.
Meteorologist Bob Ryan, WJLA-TV 7 weather man in Washington, D.C., applauds the effort.
“The science itself of forecasting is there,” he said. “We’ve got work to do to effectively communicate that this is not a regular small tomatoes storm. This is going to be a devastating storm and you have to get underground.”